Friday, November 16, 2007

Struggles of war follow vets home

I can't think of one reason why Marine sergeant Tyler Ziegel should need a news organization to intervene on his behalf to pressure the Dept. of Veterans Affairs to do the right thing. During Ziegel's second tour in Iraq in 2004, a suicide bomber's explosion blew away part of his skull, caused brain damage, disfigured his face, and severed fingers from his right hand. Half of his left arm was amputated.

In Ziegel's case, he spent nearly two years recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. Once he got out of the hospital, he was unable to hold a job. He anticipated receiving a monthly VA disability check sufficient to cover his small-town lifestyle in Washington, Illinois.
Instead, he got a check for far less than expected. After pressing for answers, Ziegel finally received a letter from the VA that rated his injuries: 80 percent for facial disfigurement, 60 percent for left arm amputation, a mere 10 percent for head trauma and nothing for his left lobe brain injury, right eye blindness and jaw fracture.
"I don't get too mad about too many things," he said. "But once we've been getting into this, I'm ready to beat down the White House door if I need to."
"I'm not expecting to live in the lap of luxury," he added. "But I am asking them to make it comfortable to raise a family and not have to struggle."
Within 48 hours of telling his story to CNN this summer, the Office of then-VA Secretary Jim Nicholson acted on Ziegel's case. The VA changed his head trauma injury, once rated at 10 percent, to traumatic brain injury rated at 100 percent, substantially increasing his monthly disability check.
What of other wounded war vets with similar problems? Ziegel's situation isn't an isolated case that fell through the cracks. Another example...
Garrett Anderson with the Illinois National Guard, for example, has been fighting the VA since October 15, 2005. Shrapnel tore through his head and body after a roadside bomb blew up the truck he was driving. He lost his right arm.
The VA initially rejected his claim, saying his severe shrapnel wounds were "not service connected."
"Who would want to tell an Iraqi or Afghanistan soldier who was blown up by an IED that his wounds were not caused by his service over there?" said Anderson's wife, Sam.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) had to act before the VA provided Anderson with compensation for his traumatic brain injury.

From a political party that seemingly glorifies our men and women serving in uniform -- unless they're deemed phony soldiers for opposing the war -- you would think that a Repub administration that lauds the patriotism of American troops would sufficiently care for our wounded soldiers. But it hasn't.

The VA still remains MIA on recommendations from a commission appointed by Bush back in July of this year to revise the antiquated disability ratings system. And we've been at war for how long?! There's simply no excuse for the lack of planning to deal with wounded vets the minute that Bush ordered U.S. troops into combat.

These few soldiers' stories emphasize how a grossly incompetent executive branch reacts when a Repub preznut occupies the WH...

Agonizingly slow. If at all.

* A Radical Notion: Bilmes, of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, has been studying veterans’ medical care and disability benefits and said the current backlog overwhelmed a system that was already struggling under budget cuts before the wars started; and that now things only stand to get worse.
* Which is worse? When outrages occur, or when they stop surprising you? Using the 5-13 discharge to cull injured troops from service and deny them future benefits through the VA.
* Pointing Up a Vital Distinction: Fallout from the DOD's Walter Reed scandal puts spotlight on VA funding cuts.
* Time For President to Come Clean On Tillman Cover-up: Iraq War vet and chairman of Jon Soltz discusses the friendly-fire death of Pat Tillman.
* Finding Yet More Ways to Fuck Vets Over: Sending PTSD-disabled vets back to Iraq and the tragic end of Jamie Dean.